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Dani Parejo’s importance to Villarreal’s midfield

Villarreal CF v Granada CF - La Liga Santander Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

The last time I dove deep on Dani Parejo’s performance, we were two matches into the season and some people were already questioning the signing. You can see that piece here.

Now, we are over halfway through the league season and we have a much larger sample size of what the Spaniard looks like in Unai Emery’s system, so I put in a specific request for data on his play for this season and will break it down a bit for you, here.

I think when we signed Parejo, there were some folks that had in their mind that he was some sort of replacement for Santi Cazorla. That’s just not who he has ever been. In the early days of the year he played next to Coquelin or Iborra in the double pivot of a 442, which we later more or less scrapped because Francis Coquelin is awful in a 442 and Samu Chukwueze as a wide midfielder is a nightmare due to his lack of defending.

The Passing

I said in my article at the beginning of the year that I wanted to see him on the field with Trigueros more, and that has happened to great effect. Their combined passing prowess has led to us having 57% of the ball this season, fourth most in the league and 4% more than last year under Calleja.

The best way to describe what Parejo has been this year is to call him a centerpiece. He’s attempted more passes than over 97% of all CMs in La Liga this season, and he’s also received more passes than about the same amount of players. When it’s time to move the ball up in possession everyone knows the first place to look is Dani Parejo.

A snapshot of this can actually be found in in the link to our other Parejo article from a few months ago. We included a pass map of the Huesca game and you see Dani clearly as a central hub off of which everything else works.

Parejo’s impact is all over the pitch.

Parejo not only get a lot of passes sent his way and then sends them onward, but he sends those pass FORWARD, almost always forward. He makes more progressive passes, passes into the final third, and passes forward than over 95% of all midfielders. While he isn’t the man for the final ball, he’s the man that sets up the final ball. You can see this from the fact that our top three passers into the penalty area are Gerard Moreno, Manu Trigueros, and Moi Gomez, and they receive more of Parejo’s forward passes than anyone. In fact, classify shot creating actions to include the pass before a key pass, Parejo has more shot creating actions than anyone on the team despite being below the median La Liga CM level for key passes themselves.

The Defense

Parejo has been doing more than his share of defending as well. He wins more tackles per 90 than any other midfielder we have, and has recovered more loose balls than anyone on the team other than Albiol and Pau. He is the fulcrum on which both our offense and defense rests.

The drawback

If there is any criticism of Parejo that I have this season, it’s this: he tends to hold the ball just a little too long. Dani will always play the right pass, but he is somewhat risk averse in that he is unwilling to pull the trigger on a delivery that he isn’t sure will get there. That’s great for ball retention, but against some of the low block teams we have faced we find ourselves wishing our midfield metronome were turned up to a faster setting, so that we could switch play and work the ball around faster in order to find a break.

In a way, Parejo is connected to why we have so many draws this season. His presence in our midfield makes us incredibly difficult to beat, but on the other hand his unwillingness to speed up play against low block teams has probably cost us a win or two as well.

The Conclusion

Dani Parejo is an ELITE well rounded central midfielder. No player is perfect, so I for one am very readily willing to forgive him his tendency to hold on to the ball. Without him to build the team around, I don’t know that we would be in the conversation for top four in the way we are this year. For me, he should be part of a La Liga Team of the Season.